One hundred fifty years ago, people at UC Berkeley had sex. Flash forward 150 years later, and little has changed. We talk about sex awkwardly in dorm group settings and casually at weekend club retreats. We read about it, too, and that’s where Laura Lambert comes in.
Lambert was the first columnist for Sex on Tuesday, which The Daily Californian launched in 1997. But she held other sex-related positions as well: She was the facilitator of the FemSex DeCal, and around the same time, she worked at the Tang Center as a peer sexual health educator.
During the ’90s, a sex-positive movement was ongoing, and sex columns dotted alternative newspapers. It was then that the Daily Cal’s Sex on Tuesday column — the first sex column in a college newspaper — was born. The rest, as they say, is history.
In a paper for Journalism History, the late Daniel Reimold detailed the impact of Sex on Tuesday as the first U.S. college newspaper sex column.
“The column is significant for pioneering content that continues to reverberate in academic, journalistic, and larger societal pools, existing … as one of the most publicized, electrifying, and divisive phenomena in student journalism at the higher educational level,” Reimold wrote.
More than 20 years after the sex column’s launch, news media have long been on the internet, but now classes have been converted to a digital format as well. Sex on Tuesday columnists in the 2000s, such as Jia Jung, dealt with the unwelcome effects of fame that the widespread exposure of the internet provides. Astrid Liu, who wrote for the column in 2019 and is currently a campus senior, is dealing with another consequence of the digital age.
On Zoom, where students’ names fit neatly inside a small box on the screen and where one can stare for as long as one desires, anonymity is even more difficult to maintain. In a direct message on Instagram, Liu said her writing hasn’t directly impacted her experience at school, but sometimes students recognize her on Zoom. Luckily, she finds her fame more amusing than disturbing.
Khristina Holterman, the current Sex on Tuesday columnist, echoed Liu’s perspective. For Holterman, writing a sex column as a student has not significantly impacted her school life.
“It’s just added something fun in my life,” Holterman said in an email. “The anxiety of not knowing how people will like it or react is honestly exhilarating.” Holterman also cites her newfound community in the newspaper as a positive change to her “boring online school life.”
For Liu, writing as a sex columnist had a less direct but more profound effect. “Writing for the Daily Cal has made me think more critically about positionality and whose opinions are most heard,” she said in the direct message.
Liu also discussed her experiences in the classroom, where topics such as sex, identity and trauma are addressed by male instructors in a manner that is seemingly “focused on sexual trauma in a really technical way.” The emphasis on analysis, writing technique and statistics is more pronounced for her now than before. Liu is adamant that even though academia is definitely not the only valid route to explore and discuss sexuality and its ethics, it is still not excused for its lack of diversity and portrayal when choosing certain readings.
According to Holterman, the impact of her writing hits closer to home. “I actually tell my friends and family not to read it because it makes me so anxious knowing that someone might discover such intimate parts of my life through my column that they’d never known before,” she said in the email.
But that does not ruin Holterman’s experience in writing for the column, nor does it make her want to stop contributing. “I’d say the impact has been overall a good one; I get a little serotonin rush every time I check and see my column of the week in ‘Most Popular’ (on the Daily Cal website),” Holterman said in the email. “I do get nervous, though, when people I know tell me they read it or have read it because I’m sharing very vulnerable aspects of my life weekly with anyone who happens to click on my column or pick up a newspaper, so that part of it has been kind of hard to adjust to and come to terms with.”
When asked what they learned about themselves as a result of being Sex on Tuesday columnists, both said they discovered that they liked writing about sex.
“Although I’ve always been a very open person when it comes to discussing sex, I find myself being much more open writing about it, and have published some things I don’t think I’d ever said out loud to someone else before, which in a sense, is very liberating,” Holterman said in the email. “But also I’ve learned the difficulty in writing about something so personal in talking about experiences very specific to myself, and trying to relate those or find a broader message that reaches everyone who reads it.”
Liu shares Holterman’s humility in admitting the difficulties that come with writing the column.
“I learned that I still have personal stuff to unpack too,” she said in another Instagram message. “Just writing a sex column once doesn’t automatically exempt me from needing to do that work.”